Known for their superb tribute to the late J Dilla, the Leeds-based 16-piece jazz band Abstract Orchestra recently turned their attention to arguably the greatest underground hip hop album of all time. The product of a collaboration between two reclusive artists, the ‘Beat Konducta’ Madlib and the ‘Metal Faced Villain’ MF DOOM, ‘Madvillainy’ changed the face of rap music forever when it was released via a then struggling Stones Throw Records back in 2004. On their current tour of the UK, Abstract Orchestra stopped by 24 Kitchen Street to perform on the fourth night of Liverpool Music Week 2017.
Judging by the number of people seen wandering the streets looking to Google Maps for guidance, 24 Kitchen Street is not the easiest of Liverpool’s music venues to find. Bumping into fellow gig goers on the way you got a strong sense of just how excited people were for this show, something which became even more real upon entering the venue. The place quickly filled up with eager fans bobbing their heads to a DJ playing largely MF DOOM and Madlib-related cuts, including one bloke sporting the metal face of his favourite MC.
The place was starting to reach capacity by the time Scouse African rapper MC Nelson (aka Nelson Idama) was up to perform. With everyone facing a main performance area littered with instruments, mics and sheet music stands awaiting his arrival, a voice began to call out from the darkness over by the DJ booth just next to the bar. After re-directing the room towards him, MC Nelson had the full attention of everyone within a couple of bars, his slick, socially conscious rhymes over mellow, 90s-style jazz-tinged and neo-soul beats were met with nods of approval and a hearty round of applause. Impressive stuff from the local MC who last year supported Ghostface Killah.
Soon after, a dozen or so men armed with an array of saxophones, trumpets, trombones and flutes squeezed themselves into position, alongside a keyboardist, a bassist, a drummer, a conductor and an MC. With musicians packed into the performance area like sardines, it was difficult to ascertain whether all sixteen members were actually present or if there were a couple missing. None of them seemed to mind the limited space though, they just want to play.
Many came along assuming they were going to hear ‘Madvillainy’ played from beginning to end, or something to that effect. Perhaps even with MC’s spitting the lyrics of MF DOOM himself. Although this wasn’t quite the case, no one would have left the venue feeling even an ounce of disappointment with a 90-minute performance that was quite simply amazing. Bookended by ‘Madvillainy’ material such as ‘Figaro’ and crowd favourite ‘All Caps’, as well as a selection of MF DOOM beats such as ‘Vomitspit’ from another one of his 2004 albums ‘MM… FOOD’ (released during his most prolific period), Abstract Orchestra also played plenty of other jazzed-up hip hop pieces that kept heads nodding furiously throughout.
These guys clearly buzz off performing with one another and showed just why they’re considered to be one of the finest hip hop jazz bands around. Conducted by Rob Mitchell and joined by MC Jefferson, the chemistry that exists between them all is pretty incredible to witness. We may never see a follow-up to ‘Madvillainy’ (there’s a good argument for not wanting one at all), but at least we’ve got Abstract Orchestra to remind us what an incredible album it was and still is. Has it really been 13 years?